This year marks the 63th anniversary of the 1956 Women’s March against the pass laws, as well as 25 years of freedom and democracy in South Africa. 2019 also marks 65 years since the founding conference of the Federation of South African Women, which adopted the 1954 Women’s Charter. The Charter, amongst other things, called for the enfranchisement of men and women of all races; for equal opportunities in employment; equal pay for equal work; equal rights in relation to property, marriage and children; and the removal of all laws and customs that denied women such equality.
On Women’s Day, the nation must reflect deeply on progress achieved in 25 years of democracy, particularly in the areas of women’s empowerment, gender mainstreaming, equality and the abolition of any discriminatory practices and abuse against women.
As we mark this historically significant day, our country unfortunately continues to be plagued by the scourge of gender-based violence. South Africa can never claim to be free if children and women continue to die at the hands of men and boys, most of whom share close relationships with them.
Gender-based violence undermines the gains of our hard-earned democracy and the sacrifices of gallant women activists, such as those who confronted the nerve centre of evil and brutality in 1956. All of us must serve as active citizens who, within our homes and communities, work daily to squeeze out of our society all the perpetrators of violence and discrimination. Men, boys, husbands and brothers have a significant role to play in safeguarding our democracy and freedom against gender-based violence and discrimination. We owe it to a better tomorrow and future generations to inculcate values of responsible citizenship and Ubuntu amongst boy children, in particular.
Some of the key legislation promoting the interests of women passed by Parliament since 1994 include laws against discrimination and inequality (the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act), and against violence and harassment (the Domestic Violence Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act). Parliament has also passed laws protecting the rights of women, such as reproductive health (the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act) and customary law (the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act).